MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and this weekend marks the annual occasion where we tip our hats to dear old dad. Perhaps we whip him up a special breakfast or we take him out to the movies or a Nats game or maybe, just maybe, we present him with a fancy new tie. That's right it's Father's Day. And an interesting thing about Father's Day actually, did you know it's only been an official national holiday since 1972?
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Yeah, it first came about back in 1910 in kind of a more unofficial way when a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd pushed hard for the holiday in honor of her dad. His name was William Jackson Smart, and he was a civil war veteran who raised six kids as a single parent. So in honor of all the hard-working guys, like William Jackson Smart, we're dedicating today's show to fatherhood.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We'll meet a dad who will have his young daughter in tow as he graduates from high school.
MR. DAMEION AGEE
I usually get like C's or D's for English. This year I passed English for a B.
And we'll talk with a same-sex couple about their decision to become dads.
MR. STEVE GEISHECKER
You know, when you're in your mid-20s, when we met, and this was back in the mid-'90s, we didn't really know of any other couples that had kids.
We'll also trek out to the Wildlife Center of Virginia to meet a father with feathers.
MS. AMANDA NICHOLSON
He's actually a little easier to get along with when he's with a baby. When he's alone on the off-season he seems angrier, for a lack of a better word.
But first, being a father can be really hard work, you know. One of the country's most famous fathers, President Barack Obama, said so himself during his annual Father's Day address back in 2011.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
Hi everybody, this Father's Day weekend I'd like to spend a couple of minutes talking about what sometimes is my hardest, but always my most rewarding job, being a dad.
I mean, not only are you making sure your children are clothed and fed, you're also trying to equip them with what they need for a happy and fulfilling life. For Maryland native Richie Lynch though, being a dad has been especially tough. For one thing, it took him and his wife a while to get there.
MS. RICHIE LYNCH
We were married, three years or so? She's going to kill me if I don't get the dates right. Then we decided to have a family. Tried the natural way, but I was told my guys were a little bit too slow. So I had to break out the science.
Science, as in in-vitro fertilization. After four rounds of IVF, in the early 2000s, Richie and his wife learned they weren't just due for one child. They were due for three.
What was it like to get the news?
After they cleaned me up off the floor, it's all a blur.
The babies wound up being born pretty early, just 29 weeks into the pregnancy. And the smallest of three was tiny. A whopping 1 pound, 16 ounces. But besides the triplets, something else has challenged 46-year-old Richie Lynch as a father, too, in a major way.
I am a C5 quadriplegic. Broke my neck way back in '87.
He was 21, a college kid, and he and some buddies had been partying at a wedding reception in Maryland. After several cocktails too many, they stumbled upon a swimming pool.
You know a swimming pool that I was unfamiliar with.
And Richie decided he'd dive in.
And he landed in the shallow end.
I hit the top of my head, I remember that.
But the collision didn't knock him out, not instantly, anyway.
I had played football for years and you get these things called stingers, when you hit your head too hard and your neck and you feel a little electricity shoot down to your fingertips maybe sometimes depending on how you get hit.
Only this time, Richie didn't just feel that electricity shooting down to his fingertips.
This time it was all four limbs.
And that's when he knew, right then and there…
I did something bad.
Soon after, Richie Lynch passed out. And when he came to, he was in a bed in Bethesda's Suburban Hospital.
Tubes sticking out of everywhere. They're worried about pneumonia.
He wound up fighting pneumonia for several weeks, and when the doctors finally diagnosed his broken neck…
My neck had atrophied a little bit and it had slipped out of place.
They did surgery to stabilize his spinal cord, which, luckily, hadn't been severed all the way through.
It is only is impaired -- the motor side. I still have the sensory sides intact.
So now Richie is considered a C5 quadriplegic.
As far as the disability is concerned, there are a lot of different levels. There's the Christopher Reeve quadriplegic. He broke his vertebrae higher up in his neck; he was a C2/C3.
But as a C5, Richie has a bit more ability. Granted, he is impaired in all four limbs.
About mid-chest down I don't have any voluntary muscle control.
His triceps don't really function, which limits his reach.
And my hands don't open and close voluntarily.
But he can propel himself in a wheelchair. And that, he says, has come in mighty handy, as he's dashed around raising his triplets.
Brendan, Hailey and Nicole.
And they are 12 now? How old are they?
Twelve years old, doing the middle school thing and all the craziness and drama that comes along with it.
Okay. So maybe the kids can be a little bit difficult every now and then, but here's the thing, through it all, Richie says, they've always accepted him just as he is.
From their point of view, Dad's always been in a chair, so to them it's just Dad's in a chair. And when they were younger I was a jungle gym, so they would crawl all over the place, get their fingers in my wheels, I was basically stuck.
Something else that's been weirdly special about him, the chair, and his children, Richie says, has to do with height…
I'm a little more accessible to them, height-wise.
And I can't get up and boogie whenever I want to, so they spend a lot of time coming up and chitchatting with me, and talking, and giving me hugs when I don't expect it. So as a dad that can't really go out and throw the ball with my kids or do some of those things, I try and make up for it in other ways.
He also tries to teach his kids some indispensable lessons. Because every now and again they have come up to him and asked…
"Dad, do you ever wish you weren't in a chair?" And I say, of course. I mean, if I could roll it all over again and do it, I definitely wouldn't be in the chair. I was not headed down the right path when I wasn't in the chair, and being in the chair certainly wakes you up right away and gets you serious about life.
It also gets you serious about how quickly life can change.
So appreciate what you have now. Don't take it for granted. I try and remind them what they have, and not to dwell on what they don't have.
And Richie does try to practice what he preaches. Not that he's some sort of Pollyanna.
Yeah, things that are He does acknowledge that certain things are a pain in the ass, not being in charge of your own personal care. I mean, showers and going to the bathroom and stuff. Yeah, that's a real hassle.
But overall, he says, life is pretty sweet.
Thanks to months of rehab at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital, he strengthened whatever mobility he had left. Thanks to new technology, he can wheel around and work his dream job as a graphic designer, which might seem, you know, a bit unexpected.
You hear a quad's coming in for a job interview as a graphic designer and you're, oh my, God, how's he going to do this?
Most of all, though, Richie Lynch can look around at his life, and recognize the preciousness of what he's got.
Going down the hallway in rehab there were guys that were these high quads. And then you're pretty happy that you can scratch your own nose.
And you can hug your own kids.
Yeah, it's true.
You can see photos of Richie Lynch and his triplets through the years on our website, metroconnection.org.
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